A Free Flowing Future for the Eel River Within Reach

View from Hull Mountain

Friends of the Eel River is proud to play an influential role in advancing real solutions for Eel River watershed health and fisheries recovery, and we are grateful for your support and partnership. These are pivotal – and exciting – times for ensuring a more sustainable future for our region, and we take our obligation to bring about this positive change seriously. Together, we have seized some significant opportunities to spur watershed recovery, and we are on the cusp of achieving even more progress. While climate change and broad ecological decline make the job seem exceedingly difficult some days, the potential for Eel River recovery is within grasp. IF we are bold enough to demand it.

As a FOER member, you’ve surely heard at least a little about the rapidly changing plans for the Eel River dams’ future. From federal relicensing to auction to bankruptcy to an ‘orphan project’ process, it’s enough to make your head spin. But take heart! As an organization that has been neck deep in the relicensing process for two years (and in the fight for dam removal for decades), FOER can honestly say that dam removal is now more likely than not. I know that I wrote you something quite similar around this time last year, but it is even truer today. The Eel River dams must go.

Please show your commitment to a free-flowing Eel River by making a generous contribution.

Dam removal is a huge undertaking, and PG&E’s maneuvers over the last couple of years have made it even more difficult to strike an agreement with the Russian River interests that benefit from the Eel’s damming and diversion. However, the company’s most recent efforts to unload the Potter Valley Project have in fact dramatically improved dam removal advocates’ chance for success.

Last year, PG&E finally acknowledged that the Eel River dams were more liability than asset and moved to auction them off with the FERC relicensing process already well underway. The idea – which conveniently ignored significant fish passage and dam safety issues – was that a purchaser would simply take up the relicensing where PG&E left off. However, liability for a series of deadly 2018 wildfires led the company to file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in January 2019. Shortly thereafter, it cancelled the auction and submitted a notice of application withdrawal to FERC, which triggered FERC’s ‘orphan project’ process. The window for interested parties to submit preliminary project bids ends July 1. If any applications are deemed viable (which is unlikely), bidders will have approximately one year to develop the proposal.

Top reasons why we are going to win this fight:

  1. Structural safety: When Scott Dam was built, almost exactly a century ago, the plan was to go straight across the Eel River canyon. But the partially built dam directed high winter flows against the south bank, and the “bedrock” the dam was meant to anchor to came loose — so the dam was bent around the rock. Significant questions about the adequacy of Scott Dam’s construction remain, especially now that it’s an aging structure.
  2. Seismic safety: Scott Dam is unlikely to survive the seismic events it is likely to face. It was built very near the most active segment of the Bartlett Springs Fault. An active landslide continues to threaten its southern abutment.
  3. Fish passage: Not only does 130-foot-tall Scott Dam have no fish passage at all, the fish ladder at Cape Horn dam is impassable at flows above about 2000 cubic feet per second — and gets completely blocked by sediment after high flows.
  4. Costs: The expense of bringing the project into compliance with federal laws is likely to be astronomical for the amount of water it provides. Relicensing alone would cost at least $30 million. A fish ladder at Scott Dam, which PG&E’s own experts warn wouldn’t work very well, would likely cost $55-$90 million. Fixing fish passage problems at Cape Horn Dam would cost millions more. On the other hand, a study commissioned by Sonoma Water found both Scott and Cape Horn Dams could be removed for about $104 million.
  5. You! The water brokers of the Russian River have long enjoyed undue influence over the Eel River’s future, but that is changing. The more you raise your voice for the Eel, the stronger our movement becomes.

The past couple of years have been truly momentous for Friends of the Eel River. In addition to the dams developments, legislation was passed to end the North Coast Railroad Authority’s long history of harm to the Eel River and begin an exciting rails-to-trails transition for its 300-mile-long right-of-way. After more than a decade of litigation, FOER is thrilled to be playing an influential role in ushering the NCRA out the door and charting the route ahead for the Great Redwood Trail.

The start of California’s legal recreational cannabis sales has been a bumpy ride for just about everyone involved – and a telling reminder of the environmental and economic perils of boom and bust industries. Last year, FOER sued Humboldt County for failing to provide sufficiently robust analysis or enforcement to minimize the industry’s ecological harms. We are in ongoing negotiations and remain hopeful that we can find a way to simultaneously reduce the industry’s environmental impacts (largely from the black market) and create a more sustainable framework for moving forward.

We are grateful for your support thus far. Please help us keep the momentum going by making a generous contribution today.

For the Wild,



Stephanie Tidwell,
Executive Director

P.S. Please join us at our Eureka office on May 2nd from 5:30 – 7:30 pm for an Open house. Please RSVP to foer@eelriver.org by April 29.